Saturday, February 21, 2009

Some More About Alaska

While I was in Michigan, I found out that people do actually read this blog from time to time and do expect to get some information about where I am and what I am up to. In light of that, here is a slightly more detailed update about me:

I have moved to Alaska. I am living at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, where I have an internship in Environmental Education. This means I run (along with my supervisor) field trip and summer camp programs, as well as do a lot of other random stuff.

I will be here until late October.

When I arrived, it was a delicious -5degrees Farenheit (I loved it), but for most of the time since then it has been a balmy high of about 30 every day. Usually there is not a lick of wind, so it doesn't feel as cold as Grand Rapids at the same temperature, where the wind goes right through you. About half the time the sun shines - and then it is absolutely the most beautiful kind of winter you could ask for. Blue skies, white snow, crisp air, bright sun, dark spruce trees, white birch trees, and lots! of animal tracks to investigate. My first day at work I followed moose tracks to the office. I have also seen lots of red squirrel, snowshoe hare, ermine, spruce grouse, raven, and some other unidentifiable prints.

"Downtown" Soldotna is a mile-long strip that starts about a mile from my cabin. The furthest place I would go is Fred Meyer (the Alaskan version of Meijer or super-Walmart), which is just over a 2 mile walk. Fred Meyer has just about everything I could ever want or need food-wise, including organics, bulk foods, and vegetarian options. There are also about 5 coffee shops in town, not to mention several drive-through espresso shacks.

At this time, the sun is rising at about 830 and sets at about 630. It's hard to say exactly, because the sun rises and sets are sooo long. Because the sun doesn't move in a lateral line East-West, but rather scoots along the southern rim, the sun lingers around the horizon for a very long time. Needless to say, it's very beautiful. My window faces west; I love to watch the sunset on a clear night or wait for the first beams of morning glow hit the tree tops.

Mt. Redoubt can be seen from anywhere there is a clear view to the west. That is the volcano that might blow any day and cover us all with toxic volcanic ash - yummy yummy. I've had one chance to see it in the brilliant orange-pink alpenglow that hits it just before the sun slides over the eastern horizon.

I don't have internet from my new home. I have to hike myself and my computer into town to find a wifi point to get online.

To pass my time after work, I cook, crochet (I started my first afghan), play my ukulele, read, watch movies, write, and pretty soon I will start writing letters. So far I have not felt lonely, though I love talking to any and everyone on the phone.

I hope this satisifies your curiosity. If you want to know more, write or call me and I will gladly tell all.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Valentine's Day Dinner

In case any of you were worried, I took good care of myself on V-Day.
Here is my lovely treat-for-myself dinner.
Why yes, that is Alaska King Crab (not vegan but local!)
with lemon butter (freegan; the butter was in the freezer when I moved in),
Baby Romaine-Watercress-Avocado salad,
and a Framboise Lambic.
And, there were vegan Rum Raisin Scones for dessert, made by moi.
I challenge any lover out there to beat that!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My thoughts upon arrival - A little backdated

My first day in Alaska. Before even arriving I can feel the difference in vibe, the difference in people. At the gate in O’Hare, the other people waiting like me are eager to talk, happy to interact and make connections. They do not ignore each other with an adopted manner of distain like I am used to. Soon we are all joking and sharing our McDonalds back and forth.

The flight attendants on my Alaskan Air flight are more friendly and relational than any I have ever known – and I have done a fair bit of flying. I pass one attendant sitting on an arm rest chatting with other flyers as I head to the restrooms at the back of the plane.

The shuttle driver between the airport and hotel gives me tips about how to navigate my new life in Soldotna, AK. He tells me where to eat and where not to eat. “If you ever meet Hobo Jim,” he says to me, and I am waiting for his warning to run the other way or not to accept his offer to see his gangrenous war hero toes. “If you ever meet Hobo Jim, tell him Hi from George.”

I rehearse it: Hobo Jim, Hi from George.

What a world.

The next morning I awaken in the hotel, a distinct parallel to my first morning in a hotel – almost the very same one which is itself across the street – in Anchorage almost three years ago. This time darkness still blankets the streets, and I have no idea how long the dark will linger. We’ve marked Imbolc (I’m sad to say I marked it barely at all this year, although I had my own celebration of fertility) so the deepest of winter is over.

At eight o’clock the night has loosened its grip. At nine it is positively light out, and around nine thirty I become aware of a piercing brilliance when the sun clears the mountain top.

It doesn’t matter how bright and beautiful Anchorage greets me today, because Kenai is not ready for our plan to land. We wait in the Anchorage airport two extra hours before we can be cleared to board and take-off.

I arrived at the airport much earlier than I needed to since my plans with Shane fell through. It would have been the right amount of time early for a normal flight in a normal airport, but when I arrived at the gate a sign told me:

20 minute check-in strictly enforced to allow for on-time departure.

I was an hour and a half early. This was clearly not O’Hare. When I did check in, the gate agent sent me to the gate which I arrived at directly – without passing through a security point of any sort.

I texted Lisa: um… no security check for my flight. none. not even a metal detector. should i be worried? or just amused?

Lisa: Amused. And pleased! Anyway what terrorists are going to bother with a puddle jumper to kenai? :)

Me: im not wried abt terrorists so much as the Alaskan roughneck hunter who wants to shoot a moose out the window

Lisa: Lol. You have a point

When we finally got on our flight, I saw no evidence of rifles or any other suspicious contraband. The flight attendant barely spoke English and dropped all the articles, among other essential words, in her take-off speech (“Float cushion located beneath seat. Take arms put through straps”) and sometimes I swear she was speaking Russian. Of all the international flights I have taken recently, this lady has spoken the worst English of any of them.

Just as I suspected, we rose above the settled cloud cover and skimmed its upper surface on our journey south. The mountain tops gleamed yellow in the sunlight and baby blue in the shadows. As we approached Kenai, I assume we passed Mt. Redoubt – and I was seated on the correct side to see it – but I could not identify it from the many peaks and ranges. Soon enough Redoubt will blow and then this part of the world will be covered with black ash that will ground all flights and obscure the sun better than any condensed water vapor does on a daily basis.

I could see through the thin clouds to the ground below. The dark green and black trees gave way to shining rivers. No, that must be snow, because no rivers are running at this time of year. Even in the summer they barely flow above 32 degrees, so in the winter they freeze solid. I can see patterns in the trees, cut like crop circles: X’s and arrows and chains of arrows like so <-<-<-. As we get closer to Kenai the trees give way to more clearings of snow and I can trace snow machine tracks that cross and crisscross.

I meet Michelle and her beautiful daughter at the Kenai airport and I am arrived. The drive from Kenai to Soldotna is beautiful. When we get out at Fred Meyer, I absolutely love to weather. It is sunny, it is blue, and the air is crisp cold but there is no wind. It is my favorite weather for winter, perhaps of all time. With days like this, no one can convince me that Alaska is anything less than perfect.